Tackling small-town racism, updated

Tackling small-town racism, updated

I wrote this list in June 2020 after the George Floyd murder. I could’ve written it 10, 20 or even 50 years ago because not much has changed. White supremacy still exists, and people are still murdering others en masse because they don’t want to be “replaced” by people that look different than them.

Replacement theory, a racist theory, has been placed front and center once again. I read a searing article about how extremist groups are targeting teens online. One mom did her due diligence and caught it before her sons slipped down a dark hole. She shared what she told them that clicked. “What I said that connected with them was ‘These people are trying to pull the wool over your eyes. They’re trying to trick you,’” she said. “I told them, ‘They’re trying to get you to believe something that you really don’t believe.’”

The Buffalo terrorist, who murdered 10 people at this writing, wrote in his online screed that “he is a white supremacist” and said he’d been radicalized by white supremacist content during the pandemic. He had a racial epithet painted down the barrel of his gun. He is 18.

Only several years ago, a similar person traveled to El Paso, Texas to shoot Latinos. I will never forget how it felt to know that had my family been there, they would’ve been targets. There are no two sides to it. There is no discussion. I lost several friends and acquaintances after that horrific tragedy.

It wasn’t but 30 years ago that people around me were reading articles that said in “30 years white people will be in the minority,” and I could see the fear in their eyes.

The question to ask is “why does that scare you?” Most of us cannot answer this question because we don’t know why. It is a long, brutal road to seeing a side of yourself you’re not prepared to see. It’s inherently in me, in us. I still walk that road, and I am learning new things about myself every single day. It’s buried deep and hard to face.

The articles were always directed to me because I had married an immigrant. Does the “majority” believe they will lose power? Or that they don’t want to belong in a “minority?” I can easily say that in the 32 years of being married to George, an immigrant from Mexico, the word “minority” went from just a word to a slur.

So I bring back my 10 Commandments for Tackling Racism in a Small Town. I read this as a talk I took part of in Western Holmes County with The Neighborhood organization. I didn’t want to bring this back, but I need to because I’m angry — angry because the same incidents happen over and over. Someone very wise once said, “People don’t get mad; dogs get mad. People get angry.” And sometimes using your anger to affect change is good.

1. Recognize racism exists because it does. The words “but not everyone is like that” must be silenced before they cross your lips. It nullifies and absolves you of seeing it. Say the words out loud.

2. Stop being defensive. Recognize racism isn’t about how you feel but how for the 13.4% Black population, 18.5% Latino population (statistics as of July 2021) and more populations, it’s a perpetual state.

3. Identify triggers. Growing up in Berlin in the ‘70s, I wasn’t taught to hate other people. But the evening news “taught” me most crimes were committed by BIPOC (this means Black, Indigenous, Person of Color), and if there was mention of slavery, I learned “it was a long time ago and it was time to get over it.” These ideas need sprayed with Round-Up and rooted out with a garden hoe.

4. Don’t deflect. Imagine a setting where a BIPOC is relaying a story about how they were cheated out of what they were owed for a job because the person who hired them thought they wouldn’t understand the math, then being told by the person they’re confiding in that they “don’t want to hear about this story because they’d like to continue having a nice day.” Or maybe how they’d been stopped for no reason, illegally searched, car towed and left in the streets to walk somewhere for help. Before you say, “but at least you weren’t arrested,” please rethink. Do you believe the very least outcome is the best they can and should expect?

5. All lives won’t matter until black and brown lives matter too.

6. Seeing should equal believing. Can you count the times someone was shot, choked or killed and the first thing you could think to say was “but they shouldn’t have done it that way and they’d be alive?” George Orwell said, “The party told you to reject all evidence of your eyes and ears. It was their final, most essential demand.” Don’t defend the indefensible and explain away what your eyes are seeing.

7. Talking about racism isn’t divisive. If there’s a problem at work or home, you bring that problem up and find a way to solve it. When someone says, “Stop using the race card,” it means they are uncomfortable and in denial. There is no race card, but there is racism.

8. Be uncomfortable. It’s arrogance to suggest we should slide through our life without attempting to understand and aid in others’ pain. We raise money for missions and efforts in other countries, we do fundraisers to help people that have cancer, and we band together to feed those in need. In this area we take action and help others. What would happen if we told someone their cancer wasn’t real? If their financial situation wasn’t really that bad after losing their job after an accident? Racism has lasted for centuries, yet we still want to deny its very existence and the wounds it causes.

9. Don’t use derogatory names. Learn what names are derogatory. Too often my own children have been told they should ignore someone calling them a racial epithet because it’s part of life. We taught them the opposite because ignoring racism allows it to flourish.

10. Love one another. We’ve been taught “do unto others” until we’re blue in the face. Doing unto others can mean signing a petition, posting something online you would’ve previously been uncomfortable sharing, researching history we weren’t taught in school, putting a sign in your yard in solidarity and instead of commenting “I don’t believe this happens,” turn it into “I’m listening.”

Melissa Herrera is a columnist, published author and drinker of too many coffees based in Holmes County. You can find her book, “TOÑO LIVES,” at www.tinyurl.com/Tonolives or buy one from her in person (because all authors have boxes of their own novel). For inquiries or to purchase, email her at junkbabe68@gmail.com.

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